In this, his directorial debut, James Kermack has created a romcom with undercurrents of trauma, abuse and depression, though only somewhat successfully.
Matthew Stathers’s portrayal of the titular Joe is, at times, not easy to watch, but in a film where the sole aim is to present the idea that we never know what lies beneath the surface, it fits perfectly, as does the performance of leading lady Lizzie Phillips as Elly. After a wild five-minute scene in which the pair are reintroduced, their onscreen chemistry is undeniable, even though the characters’ relationship is problematic.
After a while, though, their connection alone isn’t enough to distract from the fact that the plot is non-existent. In a movie supposedly about how depression can get in the way of relationships, the introduction of the mental illness seems sudden, and whilst this may be a stylistic choice to demonstrate that it can creep up on someone when they least expect it, this isn’t how it comes across. Instead, it seems forced.
Combined with inconsistent camera shots that flit between standard angles and painstakingly awkward POV, and a mediocre script, all potential for this film to live up to its ambitious objectives is lost. Although, the revelation of childhood trauma later in the movie does, to some extent, compensate for the slow plot, and makes for some interesting dynamics.
The romcom tropes in Hi-Lo Joe are endearing, and Joe’s wit provides some great comedic moments. However, it seems as though Elly isn’t given the chance to shine as much, despite her character coming across as equally witty and quirky; this makes for frustrating viewing, with Elly being too forgiving of Joe’s often awful actions.
The intentions of this film are admirable, exploring the idea that one can never know what’s going on inside the head of another person, no matter how much we think we know them. But the execution is flawed, and instead the idea of depression comes across as an afterthought, regardless of some great acting performances.
Hi-Lo Joe is released in selected cinemas on 24th November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Hi-Lo Joe here: